ELKHART -- A unique project kicked off in Elkhart Wednesday. It will help clean up Brownfield sites, grow wood for the RV industry and provide jobs. It centers on growing a special type of tree for wood that is currently shipped in from overseas.
It's happening in south central Elkhart on a contaminated Brownfield site that housed railroad roundhouse years ago. The pilot project to plant hybrid poplar trees could produce sought-after wood for the local RV industry.
"We are looking for new sustainable uses for former industrial properties," said Chris Slattery with Delta Institute. "There is an opportunity to marry environmentally remediation of vacant property with an economic opportunity."
The great thing with this particular hybrid poplar that is being planted is that it is actually a remediation tool. As it grows, it actually helps clean up the soil and any chemical that may be in the ground.
The chemicals eventually dissipate into the air.
"Poplars have the amazing ability to take up contaminants from the soil, metals solvents even some derivates are taken up by these trees," said Jud Isebrands, with Forestry Consultants.
The wood is clean and lightweight but it's currently grown in Italy and Asia.
"So with this product here we would not only be able to grow it close by, but also the supply chain is so much more minimized and the lead time on this product might be two to three months long," said John Helmuth with Genesis Products- RV Supply.
Growing it long-term would require hiring people to do it.
"We have wood here, we don't have to import it, and we put people back to work," said Laura Coyne, Elkhart County redevelopment planner.
"There are certainly other areas where we could do this same thing and we will be watching to see how successful it is in checking the contamination in the ground," said Mayor Dick Moore.
The Genesis Products company also plans to plant poplar trees on company property this week. If the project takes off, other vacant properties could be used.